By Ariadna Reche
Currently about 8,000 people sleep on the streets in London at least once a year and 200 do it regularly. However, London is a city endowed with many charities. Some of these offer food, mental help or one night accommodation to homeless people. Unseen Tours, however, offers much more than that; it provides homeless people a salary and a job to talk about something they know so well – the streets.
Unseen Tours is a non-profit organization created in 2009, with the aim of helping people who are sleeping on the street. Directed by volunteers, they look for homeless people who can offer alternative tours around the city. There are currently four tours available of about two hours each.
Through these various routes, each guide combines the explanation of his personal experience as a resident of the streets with the history of the places you visit. The price of these tours is £12 per person and you can get the tickets online in their webpage and go along to the visit. This organization offers a new form of tourism that other organizations are trying to establish in European cities such as Barcelona and Paris. Seeing the streets in this way makes people a little bit closer to the experience of homelessness and to the reality of life the streets offer.
The organization started giving away free socks to homeless people in the streets as a way to chat to them and know a little bit why they were in that situation. Doing this activism, Sock Mob Events (which was the name they had in the beginning), they realized that some were intelligent people with many things to tell but, unfortunately, going through a bad moment in their lives.
“From the conversations we had with people on the streets we decided that they are quite talented. They have really good knowledge of the area and we tried to make some of them tour guides,” Albert Kurnaidi, Unseen Tour’s manager, told Actus.
The British capital receives about 15 million visitors every year, being one of the most important tourist cities in the world. The majority of tourists visit the city in a very similar way. Indeed, who can say that they have been in London without seeing Big Ben or the London Eye? Obviously seeing the emblematic landmarks of London is also a great idea. But this option allows visitors and Londoners themselves to discover the hidden and less known places in the city.
Mike O’Hara is one of the four guides who are running the tours. He has been working with Unseen Tours in the Camden district for more than two years. Born in London, Mike lost his job and he saw himself progressively with nothing in the middle of the city. After two years, with the money he had left, Mike decided to migrate to Vietnam searching for new opportunities. There, he managed to find a job as English teacher and was happy there.
Two years later, when it seemed that life was beginning to recover, he became ill. He spent three months in hospital and lost his job. Again, it was time to migrate to search for new opportunities, this time to home. Without money or anyone to ask for help, he became homeless. Sleeping on the street was difficult for him but nowadays, thanks to the organization, he sees an opportunity to rebuild his life and to be part of a society in which he was not longer believing in.
Mike admitted to Actus: “I never imagined that I would find myself helpless and homeless.” His past as a teacher in Vietnam is currently helpful in this work. “I don’t have much money but I belong with happiness and contentment in my life,” he said. Thanks to this organization, he now has a place to live and a job to do. The route he does on the tour is entirely his own creation.
The Camden tour shows you the hidden corners of the district, corners difficult to know without it. Do you want to discover them? Join Unseen Tours and get involved to their cause.
You can visit their website at: http://sockmobevents.org.uk/ and book tickets to help these people recover and, hopefully, have a lot of work to leave this life’s stage behind.